Wasteland 3

An unpolished gem

When approaching this review, the first thought that popped in my head was “This is really an NCR Trooper’s dream come true”. The obvious joke about patrolling the Mojave and wishing for a nuclear winter really comes true in Wasteland 3, a post apocalyptic role playing tactical squad game. That car crash of game description does little to explain what Wasteland 3 really is so to simplify matters just imagine Fallout and XCOM: Enemy Unknown had a baby and it was written by actually competent writers instead of whatever monkeys on a typewriter Bethesda actually employs.

In a way we’ve come a full circle, since the original Wasteland game inspired much of the Fallout series and Wasteland 3 is an actual spiritual successor of the original Fallout games, more so than Fallout 3, 4  and whatever 76 is supposed to be. In fact, in various points in the story I found myself wishing I had actually played Wasteland 3 first instead of Fallout 3.


So what is the setting of Wasteland 3? Its the 22nd century, a century after the day the Soviet Union and NATO decided to settle their differences in a very peaceful manner – That is nuking each other. Mutants and murderous robots now prowl the ruins of metropolises, as much of the Earth has been rendered an irradiated wasteland. The few remaining humans have either reverted into full barbarism or gone mental, as one would after seeing the destruction of the world.

Into this world the Desert Rangers step, descendants of the United States Army. They are trying to somehow uphold their original oath of serving and protecting people. In the events of previous games they lost their home base and are hurting for food and supplies. Things look grim for the Rangers until they receive an offer from the Patriarch of Colorado. He is in need of military assistance from the Rangers and is willing to provide aid in the form of food and provisions.

Thus, a convoy of Rangers is sent forth from boiling Arizona to frigid Colorado. Of course, things go wrong from the start when the convoy gets ambushed, most of the Rangers are killed and the player is left as the highest ranking officer, now forced to rebuild the expedition while fulfilling its original promise. Should they fail, the people of Arizona will starve, but what does success mean?


I’d rather leave the story for later so let’s focus on mechanics first. The game is neatly divided between role playing and combat. In the role playing portion, the player character mainly interacts with other characters and factions, manages the party and levels up. Its quite easy and straightforward, especially to anyone with a bit of experience with CRPGs. 

A party can have up to six members of varying levels and each character can be leveled up separately and according to the player’s wishes. All characters earn experience points which allow them to level up and unlock points for attributes, skills and perks.

Attributes can give a character more Action Points (AP for short), damage multiplier with ranged weapons, health and so forth. Skills allow characters to lockpick, lie, intimidate, use melee or certain ranged weapons and so forth. Perks are either a handful of general ones every character has access to, or specific for their chosen skills (like being able to move more squares when holding a melee weapon, gain evasion for using sub-machine guns without cover or access to special abilities such as rally).

The party management is quite easy, as you can easily switch between characters in most inventory/character menus and they all have a common party inventory that is limitless (no weight restrictions!). Experience is primarily gained by killing enemies, finishing quests and doing various sneaky stuff like disarming traps, hacking computers and picking locks. There is no hard level cap and by the game’s end you can specialize most characters into 2-3 skills. Considering there is no huge amount of skills and you have six party slots, you can create a well balanced party that can face most challenges.

As far as the party itself goes, the player gains access to a pool of premade characters, as well as unique companions throughout the game. If none of them are appealing the player can create their own custom Rangers to use in the party. That said I found most of the unique companions more than satisfying and far more interesting.

In terms of equipment and armor the game has a wide variety that can be either found, scavenged or bought from vendors. Weapons vary wildly, even within the same weapon group in terms of ammunition and effects. You can have revolvers that fire giant spikes, flamethrowers, laser sniper rifles that can penetrate several targets, tesla coils and so forth. Weapons can be further enhanced using mods which can be found by either recycling older weapons and scavenging or buying from vendors.

Armor in contrast is divided into three parts (head, torso and legs) with pre-made sets. The player can find parts of a set in the various ways detailed before for weapons. Certain armor sets however can only be worn if characters fulfill certain attributes and skill levels (they can be still be worn but incur huge penalties). Like weapons, armor pieces can be modified, but unlike weapons they cannot be recycled for parts. Thus armor modifications can only be found or bought


Combat is the other half of the game. As far as it goes its the bog standard tactical squad gameplay. The player and the enemy take turns executing their moves on a grid map (of the current location, there are no level transitions). The player decides when to end their turn, and the turn order usually favors the player (unless the party is surprised or due to a scripted event). There is no initiative order within the squad, thus the player can switch freely between characters to execute maneuvers and synergize moves (such as remove cover with some LMG shredding to let the sniper or trooper have a better chance of hitting targets and the like).

There really isn’t much to write on the combat aspect itself. Different weapons require different APs, characters can carry two active weapons and freely switch between them as well as carry between 2-4 utility items. Characters taken out during combat can be revived during the battle or will recover afterwards. Friendly fire is possible (though the option can be turned off). Overall nothing exciting, just serviceable.

While there were a few challenging fights, they never felt unfair or unwinnable and only rarely did I resort to save scumming. The battles themselves never dragged on, or felt too tedious or repetitive. There is quite a bit of enemy variety, different enemy classes and enemies that can count as boss battles that are fairly uncommon. It just felt okay for both story progression and filler between story bits..

Travel and Survival

If there is one thing I truly like in the game is its survival management. In the early to middle game, the player often encounters a lack of resources. Good weapons and armor are hard to come by, but the same goes for medicine, utility items and ammunition. I often found myself using money to buy ammunition and using survival skills to keep away from fights on the overmap so as not to waste valuable resources.

Scavenging is a must and each trip I’d hit the vendors to make sure I had enough bullets for all my weapons. The fact characters can carry and seamlessly switch between two weapons meant I usually kept backup weapons that used different ammunition types in case I’d run out in a firefight, which happened a few times in my first playthrough.This never felt forced or bad. Rather it helped me feel more immersed in the setting.

The map itself is divided between the usual CRPG maps of hub locations, and an overworld in which the party travels in a specialized truck. The overmap isn’t too big and has a fair number of locations to explore for side content and other rewards. That said travel is restricted due to radiation and only by advancing the plot and upgrading the truck does the world open up more. There are also random encounters during exploration, some good some bad. Survival skills really help with those.

The Story

I wanted to get the mechanics out of the way so I could write about the story in length. That at least was my original intention but I really don’t want to spoil too much. The game does a very good job at both presenting to and allowing the player to interact with the story that I really wish people would approach it without any spoilers. Thus I’ll give only a small primer without spoiling too much and also showing why its the real meat of the game.

The story of Wasteland 3 is a very simple one. The Patriarch of Colorado has three children who rebelled against him and are running amok in the state sowing chaos and destruction. Not trusting his own people not to turn sides, the Patriarch reached out to the Desert Rangers, outsiders, to help him capture his kids. In return for the help the Patriarch will give the Rangers their much needed supplies as well as a base of operations in Colorado.

Of course, from the setting’s description you know that things don’t start on the right track. Regardless, the main objective of the story remains the same. Capture the Patriarch’s wayward children at any cost. Of course the more you play the game, the more you uncover Colorado’s history following the Deluge (their name for the nuclear apocalypse) and the part the Patriarch played in it. This raises more and more questions for the player.

Its a simple family drama played in the post apocalypse. However this simple framework allows the writers to truly shine. Through its lens the player gets to see and judge Colorado and the myriad of factions that reside and survive in its hellish snowy landscape. It also brings to the forefront the theme of duty versus idealism. The game asks you repeatedly to what and to whom your allegiances are, and how far are you willing to go for them while at the same time presenting you with the ideals the Rangers are supposed to uphold. Can you reconcile the two? Are the two in constant war with each other or can both be accommodated? These are not simple questions the game asks of you, and it doesn’t give you any answers.

In truth, the player is given the cruelest freedom a game can give: Freedom of choice. Wasteland 3 does away with morality systems. Instead it embraces a faction reputation system. The story and side quests will have the player interact with the many factions in the game and the choices made will impact relations with each and every one of them. Helping slavers will cause the people of the wasteland to despise you. Working with the families that rule Colorado Springs may lead the player to clash with the Patriarch and so forth. These choices will also affect the game’s finale and test the player’s morality far better than any karma system could. What kind of Ranger you are is reflected in those choices.

I mentioned side quests and there are plenty of them. Some of the side quests relate to the main story while others trigger during exploration. I found all of them interesting as they flesh out more of the politics and world of post apocalypse Colorado. Quite a few expose the horrific reality of the apocalypse. Not for the faint of heart.

Having done two playthroughs (though sadly not timed them) I believe the main story and the side content amount to around 20-30 hours of gameplay. Am certain that it could be trimmed a tad by more experienced players but overall the story’s pace, side content included, doesn’t feel too slow or rushed. It manages to hit that sweet spot of never outstaying its welcome, a rare feat for many story driven games.

Graphics, Art, Sound and Soundtrack

Graphically the game is not groundbreaking. CRPGs are rarely breathtaking and Wasteland 3 is by no means an exception. It looks as much as you’d expect a modern post apocalyptic CRPG to look. Like many things in the game, its serviceable. That said, by the end of it you would hope to revisit Fallout: New Vegas just to warm up a bit. The endless winter of Colorado can be quite cold and depressing.

Art wise there is quite a bit of character to the game. Though it is somewhat realistic, it does lean, like the original Fallout games, to the comedic. This is reflected in some of the gun, armor and faction designs. The Scar Collectors, slavers who modify their bodies, have thralls with giant bombs for heads. The Payasos are literal clowns who use colorful decor while viewing the entire world as a joke. You got the hypernationalistic Reaganite worshiping Gippers who have a giant mecha Ronald Reagan in their base and so forth. It is a tad absurd but never going overboard, striking a fine balance not seen since Red Alert 2.

Sound is okay. Weapons make satisfying pew pew noises. The voice work itself is top notch with all characters having fitting voices. There is not much to say for or against it really. Once again, it is simply serviceable.

The Soundtrack is where Wasteland 3 truly excels. There are several real bangers which help give more gravitas to certain fights. Their lyrics, often old religious or patriotic songs, clashing with the tortured chords of a post apocalyptic world. Certain songs in particular are used as progress markers for major fights, and truly help transform those battles into something epic and memorable. Of course this is without discounting the travel music of various radio stations in the overmap, helping to give more character to Colorado.

The Jank

So far, reading this review you’d get the impression that Wasteland 3 is a serviceable CRPG with tactical squad combat and a very good yet simple story about duty and ideals in a post apocalyptic United States of America. While all of this is true, the game also has an unfortunate side it shares with the Bethesda Fallout series – bugs, loads of them.

Funnily enough, in my first playthrough I haven’t experienced any bugs aside from one hard crash. However in my second playthrough it seemed like all the bugs had been lying an ambush, waiting for that second run. There hasn’t been a day in which I didn’t experience one or two game breaking bugs that caused me to get stuck for nearly an hour looking for workarounds. To the game’s credit, it has a good autosave system that can be further tweaked so as not to lose too much progress. On the downside, sometimes it can save when you experience a game breaking bug and then its rage inducing.

I experienced graphical glitches, characters “falling” under the map, camera glitches and dialogue breaking scripted events. It shows how much I love the story of the game that I was willing, on a second playthrough, to actually soldier on and even roll back progress just to complete the story. That said, if I had to give scores, the amount of bugs and their impact would have caused me to deduct a full point. The game, in my eyes, needs at least another 1-2 months of bug fixing, no question about it.

Talking about the bad side of the game, I find the UI itself to be clunky, in particular for use in combat. Add to it the horrible AI pathing, that leads friendly/enemy units to move through clear environmental hazards. Worse yet is outside of combat, when the party moves through the map. Sometimes the characters bunch up and sometimes they get separated, and god help you if you stumble into combat at such times. Other times they walk through spotted tripwires or frag mines, triggering them. It can be quite exasperating.

Last but not least is the stealth mechanic which on paper sounds good but in reality is just… Meaningless. I rarely if ever found any good use for it outside of a damage multiplier for the first shot, usually targeting the most dangerous unit on the field to get rid of it while starting combat. I really feel an opportunity was missed there.


Wasteland 3 is CRPG with tactical squad combat. While mostly competent, it does not excel or innovate any of its core mechanics. What it does have is a compelling story that allows players to immerse themselves in a fascinating, post apocalyptic world and the drama of one of its ruling families. It allows players to role play while asking poignant questions about duty and morality without giving easy answers. It looks good, has plenty of character and a rocking soundtrack. It also has a fair amount of bugs and some annoyances. Overall I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a good modern CRPG, or has been craving a good Fallout experience now that the series turned to microtransactions. 

Evolving the Review

Computer game reviews need to adapt to the new gaming reality

The one good thing that came out of the entire Fallout 76 (my god, I get tired just thinking about that game) debacle for me was the discovery of the Skill Up channel. For those of you who don’t know, Skill Up is a very talented game reviewer on YouTube. His reviews are more akin to long form essays that are well researched, brilliantly built, wonderfully presented and just tied up in a nice narrative ribbon. Just from a writing perspective I must give him mad props.

Now after sucking off Skill Up’s proverbial… thing, I wanted to address one of the points he made in his videos. In his review of Destiny 2, Skill Up dissented from the wider critic praise given to the game, instead calling it a more shallow copy of the first game. Of course, if anyone remembers the original launch of Destiny, it would make them scratch their heads. After all, Destiny 2 seemed to have launched with a lot more features and a lot more content than its predecessor.

Skill Up of course, had an answer for this seeming contradiction. While it was true the original launch of Destiny was a lackluster affair, the game had since been patched and iterated upon with downloadable content and expansions to the point that it quite surpassed its sequel in many areas. The sad fact though, was that many game critics didn’t play that final version of Destiny. Most of them played it around its launch window and after writing their reviews continued on to the next game launch. You can’t really fault them considering their job is to review games. Unlike consumers that often buy a handful of titles a year, game reviewers who wish to remain relevant must keep up with all the major releases in a year.

A good example is Zero Punctuation. Zero Punctuation is one of my favorite game reviewers partly due to his wit and partly because of the way he approaches game reviewing itself. The man posts a video a week, with only the end of the year video being a re-post. This means he reviews 53 titles a year. That said, not all of his reviews are of games themselves, as at times he may highlight important events in gaming history or just pull a sneaky retro review during a barren post major release season. Even so, around 80 percent of his videos would still feature games published in that current year.

Think about the amount of work each review entails as games continue to grow in size and complexity. To give a personal example, one of the early reviews I wrote was for Battletech. As a MechWarrior and MechWarrior Commander fan I was excited to see a new take on the franchise a la XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I must admit I wasn’t disappointed as the game was pretty much everything I wanted and more. Yet before sitting down to write the review I had sunk more than 50 hours into the game in order to finish the main storyline and explore many different options and other side content before I felt confident enough to give my final verdict.

Of course, game reviewers who make actual money reviewing games have the luxury of time compared to amateurs such as myself. Still, just looking at the amount of time I invested in a game such as Battletech, it is comparable to a working week, without taking into account the script writing, the filming, editing and other activities needed to produce good reviews. The amount of work is staggering, and the worst part is that launch seasons can pile the work unevenly. October is already referred by many as “Broketober” due to the amount of major game launches that hope to capitalize on the approaching holiday season. Being a major game reviewer during that time must be quite stressful.

Thus, game reviewers have very little time to invest in re-visiting old games. In another video, Skill Up re-visited No Man’s Sky and reported how the many features that the game was lambasted for missing had since been added, along with myriad of fixes and other improvements that made the game resemble its initial trailer rather than the blend, featureless mess we received at launch. However, most reviews of it still up will be of its launch build because game sites can scant afford to have staffers review old games when new ones are constantly published at a wallet strangling rate.

The problem is, with most major publishers moving towards a “games as service” format (I got plenty to say on that subject but will do so in a separate article) the old style of reviews becomes inadequate. As Destiny proved, whatever faults the game may possess at launch, as time goes by, more and more content is added on a yearly basis, enriching the game and often times fixing a lot of the initial complaints. By the time the game is more or less “complete” it may be radically different than what it was at the beginning and old reviews will not reflect that or give accurate information to prospective buyers, which is kind of the point of game reviews in general.

Another factor to consider is the technological shift. In the past, you shifted a physical copy and that was that. Cartridges, floppy disks and CD-ROMs represented a final version of a game. The moment they were out, that was that, over. If developers wanted to iterate upon a game, they needed to make a new boxed product and have it shipped as well. This meant that reviews could also be final since there was no real way to change or add to the game.

Of course, nowadays games get shipped broken all the time and subjected to day one patches thanks to internet connectivity. Almost every gaming household has a stable internet connection and with game launchers and digital distribution platforms like Steam, applying patches has become an easy and automated process. With the elimination of the need for physical copies comes greater freedom for developers to iterate on their games. Prominent examples are the Paradox Interactive games, each the subject of numerous expansions and downloadable content packs.

Stellaris is my favorite all time Paradox Interactive game. It is the game I have sunk the most hours in other than perhaps EVE Online. The fact is, every year sees new content added to the game with expansions and free patches that fundamentally alter core mechanics. Just last year the Le Guinn free patch (paired with the release of the MegaCorp expansion) saw a complete revamp of the game’s economic systems, changing the way many players including myself play the game. Any review predating it is now factually incorrect, doubly so to reviews from the time of the game’s launch in 2015. Even my own review of the patch is guaranteed to be obsolete within a couple of years as new content and changes are made.

The last example are online games. I already mentioned EVE Online so allow me to elaborate further. EVE Online is a complex game filled with politics and espionage. It is the game that ignited my writing passion. I started by writing battle reports on major engagements where hundreds, even thousands of players fought each other in a myriad of wars and conflicts. It is a living massive multiplayer online game where player interactions drive the narrative. Stepping away from it for a few months and only recently returning both to the game and to writing, I was amazed at some of the major political upheavals that happened in my absence. To catch up to the current political landscape, fleet doctrines and other mechanical changes will take me weeks. Keeping tabs on it all is a full time job considering the amount of player contacts you need to make and maintain.

All of this pretty much proves that the old, set in stone, game review model just doesn’t fit the constantly changing, shifting reality of modern game development. Games have become to some extent living breathing things. Constantly changing and updating by their own nature or the vision of developers and publishers. Thus what was true yesterday no longer applies to today and even less for tomorrow. Navigating this constant change as a consumer can be a real nightmare, as you are deprived of reliable sources of information.

Some outlets have recognized this shift in the gaming landscape and have made strides in hiring staff to write either exclusively on certain games or have existing staff return to older titles to give them a second look. That said, I still think this is more of a stopgap than a real solution. Some reviewers online dedicate themselves to covering certain games or gaming genres and thus often give updates on the same game regularly, while others re-visit their old work to try and see what changed.

That said, I have no real solution to offer. Even Steam user reviews are not a good metric to use since some could have been left by players that have since abandoned the title. Consumers though, need guidance. They need reviews that they could trust and that would give a full picture that will enable them to make an informed choice. So far, some games are being passed over due to bad reviews that refer to earlier builds, while others coast on good reviews that have since become obsolete due to unwanted additions such as microtransactions (looking at you Call of Duty: Black Ops 4).

Whether its a constantly updating review page for a game or weekly re-review of older titles, some sort of system is badly needed. Unfortunately, like the rest of you all I can do is just to keep up to date with my favorite games and write a new review with every major patch or content release.